Future congressional contests in Maine may seem like déjà vu all over again for voters.
Familiar names dominate perpetually thin benches in both parties. Thanks in part to legislative term limits, the Pine Tree State is plagued with a limited number of top candidates — and an even smaller number of top offices.
The state has just two House districts in addition to its two Senate seats. There’s a gubernatorial race every four years, but all other statewide offices are appointed by the legislature. The potential for ambitious politicians to advance is limited.
Democrats dominate local politics and hold both House seats, giving them a stronger base in a state that’s increasingly trended their way.
“The Democrats have a particular advantage with growing a farm team up here because they have a good network of ancillary political networks after they hit their term limits,” one Maine Republican operative said. “Republicans don’t have that kind of thing.”
Still, when there’s an opportunity to run, such as this cycle in the 2nd District, the entire bench empties into crowded primaries.
Democratic Rep. Michael H. Michaud is exploring a gubernatorial bid, leaving his potentially competitive district wide open. Not surprisingly, many of the possible and announced candidates have run recently before.
Navy veteran Blaine Richardson is running again after losing to former state Sen. Kevin Raye in the 2012 primary for the 2nd District. Raye may also seek the seat again; he lost to Michaud by 16 points last year.
Other potential candidates include former state House Minority Leader Josh Tardy and former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who lost two statewide GOP primaries — a gubernatorial bid in 2010 and a Senate bid in 2012.
State Sen. Garrett Mason, a young legislator who has not sought federal office before, could also enter the contest. State House Assistant Minority Leader Alex Willette, 24, was the first Republican to enter the race.
Three Democrats have also announced bids in the 2nd District: state Sen. Emily Cain, state Sen. Troy Jackson and building contractor Alden Smith.
Two other Democrats are still considering bids: Bangor City Councilman Joe Baldacci, brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who lost a Democratic primary in 2012 for Senate.
Otherwise, the next major movement in the Maine delegation will likely come when either senator retires.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins has announced she will seek re-election in 2014. Her popularity has deterred any top-tier Democrats from challenging her.
Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is up in 2018. There’s no word yet on his re-election plans, but Maine operatives say GOP hopefuls for his seat would likely come from the same list of names currently eyeing the 2nd District.
Next time there’s an open Senate seat, local operatives say, Rep. Chellie Pingree would clear the Democratic field. As a result, her seat in the state’s more left-leaning district would attract a bevy of Democratic candidates.
“We’d literally have every single Democrat running,” one Maine Democratic operative joked.
Pingree’s daughter, former state Speaker Hannah Pingree, was mentioned as a top-tier candidate for her mother’s seat someday. Other potentially strong Democratic candidates include state Speaker Mark Eves and Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant.
Former state Sen. Ethan Strimling, a Democrat who lost to Pingree in the 2008 primary, was also mentioned as a possible candidate.
Republicans listed Ruth Summers, wife of failed 2012 GOP Senate candidate and former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, as an attractive candidate for that race. She is a veteran who campaigned for her husband while he was serving in Iraq in 2010.
But GOP operatives lamented the thin bench of candidates in the 1st District, which is already a tough one for Republicans to win.
“It’s just an extremely Democratic district,” one GOP operative said. “Honestly, I think a serious Republican that wanted to run for Congress in Maine would find a home in the 2nd District.”
Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.